04/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

From Lincoln to Limbaugh: Oh How The Republican Party Has Fallen

Did you catch the newly crowned leader of the Republican Party's "first address to the nation" Friday night? I am truly embarrassed for my Republican friends as to how far the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt has fallen.

As I discuss in my book, The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, the Republican Party began as the party of radical reform. In the Big Change Moment of the 1860s, they abolished slavery, passed the three most far reaching progressive constitutional amendments in history outside of the Bill of Rights, made sure the freedoms of the Bill of Rights would be enforced in the states, gave away millions of acres of free land to poor people, started the land grant university system, and passed the nation's first progressive income tax. Although they increasingly became the party of big business in the years afterwards, Teddy Roosevelt brought them back some of their glory by breaking up big corporate trusts, establishing a national parks system, instituting food safety measures for the first time, and establishing other reforms of the progressive era.

Sadly for the country and their party, though, Republicans have become more and more conservative in the years since. Not a single Republican House member supported Social Security, the minimum wage, or most of the other major reforms of the New Deal. Only a few remaining Northern moderates supported civil rights legislation in the 1960s, and most of those were driven out of the party when Goldwaterites and southern segregationists took over the leadership of the Republican Party in that decade.

Now they have sunk to a new low, as Rush Limbaugh has become their virtually undisputed leader. Did you see the adoring reception at the Conservative Political Action Committee Convention? The way attendees listened in rapture to every word of his 80 minute speech? The reception for Limbaugh far, far exceeded GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney or that of Senate Minority Leader McConnell. As I discuss in The Progressive Revolution, Limbaugh's ugly, mocking, racist and sexist rhetoric is eerily similar to the worst right wing demagogues in American history, people who opposed ending slavery and Jim Crow, denying women the right to vote, and attacking immigrants who were not of European descent. Yet no matter how ugly or outrageous his remarks, Republicans rarely do anything to distance themselves from him, and one GOP congressman who did last year was forced to quickly apologize and beg for forgiveness. Now RNC chair Michael Steele made a half-hearted attempt to stand up to him, but he too almost immediately backed down. No matter what Limbaugh says or does, no Republican dares stand up to him because he controls their party.

Now Limbaugh has made himself crystal clear: even in the midst of the terrible economic crisis we are in, he wants the president to fail. No Republican member of Congress has condemned those remarks. That's why groups are joining together to take action and to congratulate Rush on ascending to the Republican Party's heights - by dragging it down to his level. Limbaugh says he hopes President Obama's economic plan fails, and Republican leaders have rushed to agree.

Never mind that the fate of our economy - and Americans who are suffering because of its decline - are at stake. And that siding with Rush means rooting against recovery.

The most telling thing about Limbaugh's speech is how badly he mangled the words of the Constitution. His quote was classic:

We [conservatives] love and revere our founding documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. We believe that the preamble to the Constitution contains an inarguable truth that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, freedom, and the Pursuit of happiness. Those of you watching at home may wonder why this is being applauded. We Conservatives think all three are under assault.

Yeah, you revere those documents so much you don't know which sentence is in what document. And you don't know that equality was at the cornerstone of Jefferson's Declaration. I guess that's not a surprise: conservatives throughout history have always wanted to ignore that inconvenient idea in the Declaration that was at the heart of the American idea.

Right now, it's good to be Rush. Let's let him know we're happy for him by sending a congratulations card from Americans United for Change by clicking here.